Following עם ישראל’s terrible failure and merciful forgiveness in last week’s סדרה, Moshe gathers the Jews and puts them to work. After a brief interlude to remind them of the importance of keeping Shabbat, Moshe begins to instruct the Jews on the construction of the משכן, the Tabernacle.
Rav Binyamin Lau in his work אתנחתא, expounds on the juxtaposition of the construction of the משכן to חטא העגל. He writes that it’s clear from פרשת כי תשא that the Jewish People stumbled because they were not keeping busy enough while waiting for Moshe to descend from the mountain. As their count of forty days and forty nights came to a close and there was still no sign of their leader, בני ישראל craved action- they could not sit around and wait anymore. So, they pushed Aharon to agree to create a golden calf to walk before them. Aharon tries to discourage them from this course of action by asking the women to give up their jewelry, but this ends of backfiring as the Jews, so eager to finally do something after sitting around for so long, were happy to give up their belongings in the service of G-d. And so, the עגל הזהב was created.
When Moshe came back down from Mt. Sinai, and Aharon explained to him what had happened, the Jewish leader realized that while the Jews had indeed stumbled here, their intentions were not entirely wrong. For, as Rav Lau writes, it’s actually very admirable that בני ישראל were so willing to give of themselves to serve G-d. Unfortunately, this giving was channeled to a bad outlet, to עבודת אלילים instead of עבודת השם. Moshe, seeing this, understood that it had been a mistake to leave the Jews alone at the bottom of הר סיני without anything to do- they needed to have a healthy and productive outlet to channel their skills and generosity, or otherwise this energy would be used for bad, for as Rabi Eliezer taught (כתובות ה:ה): “הבטלה מביאה לידי זמה- wasting time leads to inappropriate actions,” and what action is more inappropriate than עבודה זרה.
With this epiphany, Moshe changed his tactic for the major construction project that G-d had assigned him in סדרת תרומה, the building of the Mishkan- Moshe had previously been instructed in how to put together the individual parts of the Tabernacle, but not how to most efficiently finish the project. Realizing that his constituents had a lot to contribute to the Mishkan, both in terms of riches, skills and a willingness to work, Moshe gathered them at the beginning of our סדרה and let them at it. First, he asks them to volunteer money and jewelry to create the parts of the Mishkan, but unlike last week’s shnoring (collecting) which had a set donation for every Jew, Moshe allows all to donate “כל נדיב לבו,” as much as they would like to give. Then Moshe asks “כל חכם לב,” those with skills who could contribute to the construction of the Mishkan, to step forward. For the Jewish People, everything had changed almost overnight- their over-activeness, which had recently been their stumbling block, had become a boon. They could finally help instead of just sitting around.
Rav Lau’s insight has a very important lesson for us as well. G-d created each and every person in the world with unique and special talents, which set them aside from everyone else. It is our challenge to try to culminate these skills and use them for G-d and for good, even if they don’t fall under the typical umbrella of “useful Jewish talents.” All it takes is a little bit of creativity and guidance to figure out how to channel these talents for the best, and to avoid the ever-present danger of using them for bad without proper direction.
The construction of the Mishkan, as instructed by Moshe in פרשיות ויקהל-פקודי, tells the story of many different types of Jews coming together as one and using their talents to build something beautiful together. If we, in our times, also work hard to utilize our unique talents for good, with “כל נדיב לבו” and “כל חכם לב” stepping forward in service of G-d, then, with Hashem’s help, we will merit to finish our future construction project, of the Third Bet Hamikdash, very very soon. Shabbat Shalom.